THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST TO HIS SERVANT JOHN
Lesson 2: Introduction Part II
The ecclesiastical writers have taught that at the time
of Claudius Caesar, when that famine which the prophet Agabus had announced in
the Acts of the Apostles would come in ten years time was at its height, that
during that difficulty this same Caesar, impelled by his usual vanity, had
instituted a persecution of the churches. It was during this time that he
ordered John, the Apostle of our Lord, Jesus Christ, to be transported into
exile, and he was taken to the island of Patmos, and while there confirmed this
Bishop Apringius of Beja (sixth century AD), Commentary on the Apocalypse 1.9
History notes that John had
been banished to this island by the emperor Domitian on account of the gospel,
and that then he was, appropriately, allowed to penetrate the secrets of heaven
while (at the same time) prohibited from leaving a small space of the earth.
Bede the Venerable, Explanation of the Apocalypse 1.9.
Irenaeus, in the fifth book of his work Against Heresies,
where he discusses the number of the name of Antichrist which is given in the
so-called Apocalypse of John, speaks as follows concerning him: "If it were
necessary for his name to be proclaimed openly at the present time, it would
have been declared by him who saw the revelation. For it was seen not long
ago, but almost in our own generation, at the end of the reign of Domitian."
Eusebius quoting St. Irenaeus, Church History III. xviii.2-3.
+ + +
Dating of the Book of Revelation - Majority view:
Many of the Church Fathers and Church historians who agreed that St. John the Apostle wrote down the visions given to him by Christ in the New Testament book of the Apocalypse/Revelation could not come to agreement on which Roman emperor had banished him to the island of Patmos. Bishop Apringius, who wrote a sixth century commentary on Revelation, maintained that it was the Emperor Claudius (died 54 AD) who banished St. John, while the Venerable Bede, relying on the testimony of Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea quoting St. Irenaeus, believed it was the Emperor Domitian (see the quotes above). Others testified that it was Claudius' successor, the vicious Emperor Nero who banished St. John to Patmos. Most modern Biblical scholars hold the view that Revelation was written during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian who ruled from 81-96 AD. This view is based solely on a passage written by St. Irenaeus (died c. 200 AD) in his book Against Heresies 5:30:3. Irenaeus discussing the "Beast" passages in Revelation wrote: If it were necessary for his name to be proclaimed openly at the present time, it would have been declared by him who saw the revelation. For it was seen not long ago, but almost in our own generation, at the end of the reign of Domitian.
Other scholars, however, who dispute dating the book of Revelation to the reign of Domitian, point out that there are major problems with this view:
Dating of the Book of Revelation - Minority View:
There are scholars who believe that Revelation was written during the widespread persecution of Christian during reign of the Roman Emperor Nero who ruled from 54-68 AD. Evidence that supports the minority view:
Let's take these points one at a time:
Point #1: There is no historical evidence to support a widespread persecution of Christians during Domitian's reign. He was the son and brother of two previous emperors. Domitian's father was the Emperor Vespasian who was succeeded by Domitian's elder brother, the Emperor Titus. These men were the Roman generals who suppressed the Jewish Revolt of 66 AD. Both previous emperors held a view of Christians that was not completely favorable but was at the most an ambivalent view because Christians did not participate in the Jewish revolt against rule by the Roman Empire from 66-73 AD. The Emperor Vespasian even gave permission to St. Simon, kinsman of Jesus and the second bishop of the Church in Jerusalem, to return with his Christian followers to Jerusalem from Perea (across the Jordan River) several years after the revolt was suppressed.
Those years of peace after the suppression of the Jewish Revolt saw a great increase in the number of Christian communities across the Roman Empire. Soldiers of common and high rank, Roman senators, and Romans of noble birth were converting to Christianity. Domitian's negative reaction to Christians later in his reign may have been more of a fear of the spread of the influence of Christians who were becoming influential in Roman politics and in the army. He also wished to be worshiped as a god towards the end of his life when mental illness became an increasing burden. This is the period when there is some evidence of persecution. His cousin, the Roman political leader Flavius Clemens (Clement in English) was his most famous victim. The charge against Clemens was that he was "impious" because he refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods, including his emperor. It has been suggested that his refusal to honor Roman pagan gods may have been because of his Christian faith. Clemens, a proconsul who was known for his honesty and integrity, was very much admired by the people of Rome. The motivation for his execution could also have been envy and fear of Clemens' popularity and his influence with the Roman populous. Bishop Eusebius (fourth century AD) believed Clement was executed because of his Christian faith and recorded the fate of Clemens' niece: For they record that in the fifteenth year of Domitian Flavia Domitilla, daughter of a sister of Flavius Clement, who at that time was one of the consuls of Rome, was exiled with many others to the island of Pontia in consequence of testimony borne to Christ (Eusebisu, Church History III. XVIII.5). Eusebius quotes the testimony of the Roman lawyer and Catholic priest Tertullian that there was some persecution of Christians during Domitian's reign but that it was not like the persecution during Nero's time: Tertullian also has mentioned Domitian in the following words: "Domitian also, who possessed a share of Nero's cruelty, attempted once to do the same thing that the latter did. But because he had, I suppose, some intelligence, he very soon ceased, and even recalled those whom he had banished" (Eusebius, Church History III.XX.9).
Point #2: Both the Roman historian Tacitus (Annals XV.44) and the writings of Pope St. Clement of Rome (1 Clement 6), who lived during the reign of Domitian, speak of the deaths of "immense multitudes" of Christians during the reign of Nero, but they do not mention any accounts of severe persecutions during the reign of the Emperor Domitian.
Point #3: Revelation 17:9-11 is an important passage for fixing the dating of St. John's vision. In this passage St. John seems to be speaking of two different lists. It is possible that these are the two different official lists of the Roman emperors used by Roman historians. One list began with Julius Caesar and the other with his successor, his great-nephew Octavian, who was given the title Caesar Augustus (died 14 AD; he was the emperor when Jesus was born).
Roman historian Tacitus begins his list of Roman emperors in Annals, his history of Rome, with the name of the first man to bear the title "emperor" of the Romans: Augustus Caesar (Octavian). However, the Roman Historian Suetonius began his list of Roman emperors in Lives of the Twelve Caesars with Julius Caesar as the first of the Roman emperors (even though Julius Caesar never officially bore that title), as does Dio Cassius in his Roman History and Flavius Josephus, the Jewish first century AD priest/historian, in his history of the Jewish people entitled Antiquities of the Jews. There were, therefore, two official lists in use in the first century AD.
A comparison of the two accepted lists of Roman emperors from Suetonius' list and Tacitus' List:
|Suetonius: Lives of the Twelve Caesars||Tacitus: The Annals|
|1. Julius Caesar died 44 BC|
|2. Augustus Caesar died 14 AD||1. Augustus Caesar|
|3. Tiberius died 37 AD||2. Tiberius|
|4. Caligula died 41 AD||3. Caligula|
|5. Claudius died 54 AD||4. Claudius|
|6. Nero died 68 AD||5. Nero|
|7. Galba died 69 AD||6. Galba|
|8. Otho died 69 AD||7. Otho|
|9. Vitilleus died 69 AD||8. Vitilleus|
|10. Vespasian died 79 AD||9. Vespasian|
|11. Titus died 81 AD||10. Titus|
|12. Domitian died 96 AD||11. Domitian|
In Tacitus' list Nero is the fifth name, but on Suetonius' list Nero is the sixth emperor named. In Revelation 17:10 the inspired writer records: The seven heads are also seven emperors. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while. Nero committed suicide (with a little help from a friend) in June of 68 AD after a reign of fourteen years. He was immediately replaced by Galba who was murdered in 69 AD and was replaced by Otho who only lasted 95 days before his murder. This historical succession seems to fit the passage. Then, take into consideration the next line: The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seventh and is going to his destruction (Rev 17:11). Otho is both number seven and number eight on the lists of emperors. Is it possible from this passage to place the written record of St. John's visions on Patmos to just after Nero's death during the short reign of Galba? Also consider Revelation 17:8a: The beast you have seen was once alive and is alive no longer... This passage also seems to point to the recently dead Nero who was awaiting the resurrection of the dead and final judgment with the damned. At any rate, if the seven heads and ten horns refer to Roman emperors, Domitian does not make the list because he would be number eleven or number twelve depending on the list.
There is also the interesting connection between the passage in Revelation 13:18: There is need for shrewdness here: anyone clever may interpret the number of the beast: it is the number of a human being, the number is 666. Some ancient sources list this number as 616. In ancient times most cultures did not have separate symbols for both letters of the alphabet and numbers. In both Hebrew and Greek each letter of the alphabet also had a corresponding numerical value; in Latin only six letters had numerical value. In Greek the word "gematria" denoted the letter value of names, words, or phrases (see the document The Significance of Numbers in Scripture in the Documents/ Scripture Study section, and see the chart of gematria in scripture for letter/number equivalents). The gematria of "Neron Caesar" (an alternating spelling of Nero's name in the first century AD) in Hebrew is 666, while the sum of the letter-number value of "Nero Caesar" is 616. The sum of the letters of the words "Caesar-god" in Greek is also 616, and all six of the Roman numerals (I=1, V= 5, X=10, L=50, C=100, D=500) add up to 666. Note: M = 1,000 was two D's (500) back to back.
The of gematria of Neron Caesar and Nero Caesar in Hebrew
(Hebrew is read from right to left)
|nwrn rsq (Neron Caesar)||wrn rsq (Nero Caesar)|
The gematria of the Roman numerals
|I = 1|
|V = 5|
|X = 10|
|L = 50|
|C = 100|
|D = 500|
|Total = 666|
The gematria of "Caesar god" in Greek = kaisar theos
Point #4: Revelation 11:1: Then I was given a long cane like a measuring rod, and I was told, 'Get up and measure God's Temple, and the altar, and the people who worship there; but exclude the outer court and do not measure it, because it has been handed over to gentiles. The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the pagan gentile Romans on the 9th of Ab (July/August) in 70 AD. If St. John was commanded to go to Jerusalem and measure the Temple during the reign of Domitian (sometime between 81-96 AD), John would have protested that he could not measure the Temple because it no longer stood. If the Temple was still standing at the time of John's vision then the vision must have taken place prior to the Temple's destruction in 70 AD.
The Different "Schools" of Thought in Interpreting Revelation:
Most scholars agree that the letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor describe the conditions of seven historical churches in St. John's own time. Most scholars also agree that the last half of chapter 20 and all of chapters 21 and 22 are prophetic visions of the end times which will culminate in the Second Advent of Christ, the Resurrection of the dead, the Final Judgment, the creation of the new heaven, the new earth, the new Jerusalem, and the eternal life of the saints with God in the heavenly Sanctuary. The interpretation of the middle chapters of Revelation hinge on two important interpretive questions: What is the historical reference of the visions and what is the nature of the thousand-year period described in chapter 20?
There are four different schools of thought on the interpretation of the middle chapters of Revelation:
While each of these schools of interpretation in most forms is approved by the Catholic Church, it is not necessary to accept any one theory in its pure form. Many modern commentators may teach that one scenario in the middle chapters of the book of Revelation is a symbol of the present age, while teaching that another is actually a prophecy of a future event. St. Augustine held that the "first resurrection" in Rev 20:5-6 refers to the present regeneration of the soul through baptism and that the thousand-year reign of Christ in Rev 20:4-10 represents the era of the Church between Christ's two advents. But he also taught that the antichrist will be a specific individual who will appear toward the end of history to persecute the Church for a literal three and a half years.
The Secret Rapture Theory:
Most Evangelical Protestants and some Catholics who have been influenced by Protestantism embrace the "Rapture Theory" in association with a futuristic interpretation of the book of Revelation. The book The Rapture Trap by Paul Thigpen offers a complete presentation of the problems associated with the so-called "rapture theory." The chief weakness with this interpretation is that Evangelical Protestants who support the futuristic dispensation theory are teaching that there will be two "Second Comings" of Jesus Christ. According to this view the first return of Christ is in the so-called "Rapture" (strictly a Protestant term) when only the righteous will be "raised up" with Christ and taken to heaven, followed by a period of tribulation for those "left behind." According to this view there will be another return of Christ at the end of the age when all humanity - the living and the dead - will be bodily resurrected to face the Final Judgment. The theory of two "Second Comings" of Christ is not supported in Scripture and is not supported by the teachings of the Catholic Church. It is a teaching introduced in nineteenth century AD when it was made popular by a disaffected Anglican named John Darby and is today taught in the Dallas Theological Seminary and by Protestant writers like Tim Lehay, author of the popular Left Behind book series.
The attractive part of this theory for many is that it teaches all Christians will be swept away by Christ in the "Rapture" and will therefore be able to avoid the Great Tribulation that those "left behind" must endure. However, the Catholic Church teaches: Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the "mystery of iniquity" in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh (CCC #675). If God did not spare the suffering of His Son, or His mother, or His disciples, why should Christians of any age believe they are worthy to escape the testing of their faith through suffering?
Some scholars maintain it is possible to embrace all these schools of thought at once, and the Catholic Church agrees to the extent that she has always taught that Scripture can have several levels of meaning. An example of several levels of meaning can be found in the interpretation of the "Beast" in the book of Revelation chapter 13. The "Beast" might refer simultaneously to the Roman Empire, to Nero Caesar the persecutor of Christians, to Hitler and Nazi Germany, and the final antichrist still to come.
The Question of the Thousand Year Reign in Revelation 20:1-10
The most hotly debated issue is the "millennium." This is a word from Latin meaning "a thousand years;" it is a word that does not appear anywhere else in the Bible except in Rev 20:4-7. There are three schools of thought concerning the millennium passages in the book of Revelation:
The Premillennial View: After Christ returns to earth in glory, He will reign for a literal thousand years before the final consummation of God's plan. The title of this view comes from the "pre-mills" belief in Christ's "Second Coming" before the millennial reign. Some who have adopted this interpretation think that this reign takes place with the saints in heaven, but historically this position has tended to believe in a literal, earthly kingdom with its capital city at Jerusalem. This is a position the Catholic Church explicitly rejects. This view was known as the 'chilian' heresy (from Greek word for thousand), a heresy vigorously renounced by the Church in the fourth and fifth centuries AD. This is the same heresy proposed by the Jehovah Witnesses and others who believe that before the final Judgment Day Christ will come again in the flesh and in human history to visibly rule an earthly kingdom.
There are actually two forms of this theory: historic premillennialism (discussed above) and dispensational premillennialism. The dispentational premillennialists believe in two Second Comings of Christ: the so called 'Rapture' before the great tribulation and a second "Second Coming" of Christ at the end of the age. Dispensationalism divides history into seven 'dispensations," or progressive stages in God's revelation to humanity. The seven letters of to the seven churches in chapters 2-3 are seen as symbolically representing these seven stages. The Catholic Church has pronounced her stand on this form of millennialism in the 1944 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome: In recent times on several occasions this Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office has been asked what must be thought of the system of mitigated Millennarianism, which teaches, for example, that Christ the Lord before the final judgement, whether or not preceded by the resurrection of the many just, will come visibly to rule over this world. The answer is: The system of mitigated Millenarianism cannot be taught safely. The emphasis in bold is mine.
Most fundamentalist Protestants are millenarians and some Catholics have been influenced by this view without knowing it is opposed to the teaching of the Church. There are also Catholics who hold the view that Christ will have an invisible spiritual reign on earth of one thousand years and maintain that this theory does not violate the Church's prohibition of an earthly, physical reign. However the Catechism of the Catholic Church article #676 teaches that to hope for any kind of future golden age of man does not agree with Church doctrine: The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism.
The Postmillennial View: This view emerged from the teaching of the protestant John Calvin during the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century AD. It teaches that the kingdom of God is now being extended through the world by the preaching of the gospel, social activism, and the work of the Holy Spirit in worldwide conversion. Through this process the world will eventually to be Christianized and the return of Christ to the earth will take place only at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace that will come at the end of the "millennium" which is either literal or symbolic (each of these views have variations). This view also is not in harmony with the Church. In CCC #677 the Church teaches: The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God's victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause His Bride to come down from heaven.
The Amillennial View: The term literally means "no millennium," which is a misnomer. Amillennialists believe in the millennium of Revelation chapter 20, but they insist that it refers symbolically to the present age between Christ's two advents rather than to a future, literal thousand years. For an explanation of this view see St. Augustine's City of God. St. Augustine taught when Christ defeated Satan through His Passion and self-sacrifice on the altar of the Cross, Satan, the "ancient serpent" (Rev 12:9) was bound. Satan was not totally removed from human history but was restrained from exercising his whole power on man and from seducing those who belong to God through the covenant in Christ's blood (Lk 22:20). Since that time Christ has been reigning on earth through His saints because He is reigning in the hearts of those on earth who love Him. St. Augustine also believed that just before the Second Advent at the end of the present age God will loose Satan one more time. At that point in time Satan will rage with his whole force of fallen angels for three and a half years. Some "amills" do not insist on a literal three and a half year period but St. Augustine does; according to St. Augustine this will be the period of the great tribulation. Although this view has been widely held in the Church since St. Augustine taught it in the fourth century AD, the Church has never ruled on this theory one way or the other. The Church does teach that Christ reigns now and the Church is the sacrament of that reign in the world.
We will be revisiting these various theories of the Millennial Reign of Christ in Revelation chapter 20.
THE OLDEST SECULAR ACCOUNTS & HISTORICAL EVIDENCE FOR THE EXISTANCE OF JESUS OF NAZARETH
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